The ground-breaking ceremony for Aloha Gardens took place on Nov. 12. From left, Mayor Jeremy Harris, ORI Anuenue Hale President Susanna Cheung and the Rev. Taiken Akihama participated in a blessing.

Project sprouts opportunities
for seniors, disabled workers

By Leila Fujimori

Susanna Cheung envisions gardens of herbs, roses and fruit trees where senior citizens can stroll. She also sees developmentally disabled workers with mental and/or physical conditions learning valuable work skills by helping the elderly.

The seniors and developmentally disabled also would share a role: providing company for each other, Cheung said.

"These two groups of people are very lonely," said Cheung, president of ORI Anuenue Hale Inc., a nonprofit organization. "You put these two groups together -- because we've experimented -- it works very well."

Cheung will use her 20 years of expertise in training the developmentally disabled to fill the increasing needs of a growing elderly population and their families. Cheung founded the successful Helemano Plantation, where the disabled are trained and work in areas such as food preparation.

The group is proposing a community service center with the heart being an affordable elder day-care facility. The center, to be built between Wahiawa and Waialua, will be called Aloha Gardens.

The project, which intends also to serve those with low incomes, includes a health and wellness center that would work with the elder care facility, a computer-learning center, a vocational training center open to all in the community, dining rooms, a social hall, and a group living facility for the disabled.

Although groundbreaking was held Nov. 12, the facilities cannot be built until the city approves ORI Anuenue Hale's request for variances and a special use permit for non-agricultural uses on 14.9 acres of the 43.4-acre parcel, currently zoned restricted agricultural district.

If approved, the facilities will be built amid pineapple fields alongside Helemano Plantation, next to Dole Plantation on Kamehameha Highway. It would serve the North Shore and Central Oahu.

The project will cost $10 million from the city's share of federal Community Development Block Grants, state appropriations and fund-raising. Construction could begin early next year.

"We don't want to charge an excessive amount to people in the community," said Ann Higa, chief operating officer of ORI Anuenue Hale.

To generate income, ORI Anuenue Hale is proposing a range of programs, activities and facilities: a farmers' market to sell produce grown on the property and arts and crafts. Cabins and a pavilion for overnight camping, which can accommodate the disabled but open to all, and a miniature golf course are also planned.

The center also would provide a place for elders to share in gardening and farming, partake of meals and share their knowledge with others.

Community members generally favor the project. But some are concerned the recreational uses for the project may set a precedent for changing the agricultural use of the area to commercial uses by for-profit companies.

Castle & Cooke Properties Inc. is also seeking city approval for its planned expansion of commercial activities at neighboring Dole Plantation.

If the city Department of Planning and Permitting approves the variances and special use permit, ORI Anuenue Hale will drop a request to rezone the property.

Neighborhood boards in Wahiawa and the North Shore have given their overwhelming support to the project.

The city Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the project at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday on a request for a special use permit, which would allow nonagricultural uses.

Cheung pushed for the project because she has seen many people struggle to care for their elderly parents, with some having to quit their jobs.

Waialua resident Jenny Vierra knows firsthand of the need for elder care facilities in the area.

"When I was looking for a care home (for her elderly parents), it was hard to find," she said. "The concept is good. It'll make a difference."

The elder care program also will include an outreach program, which is already in place in a limited form.

Lani Stevens is grateful for the ORI Anuenue Hale outreach worker that helps care for her 93-year-old mother, who fell and uses a walker to get around.

Stevens had stayed home from work two months after the fall. After she returned to work, an outreach worker, who visits her mother twice a week, supplements help from friends and a commercial caregiver.

The outreach worker bathes her, cuts her hair, does her nails and "things we can't even do for her," Stevens said. "It comes as a gift."

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